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How much does Latin help French?

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How much does Latin help French?

Postby Jacobus » Sat Mar 21, 2009 11:28 pm

Salvete omnes,

Before I begin, I must stress that I am approaching this question with a very scetchy knowledge of the subject. I am primarily learning Latin so that I can eventually read famous works in Latin. My other aim in learning Latin is so that I can use my knowledge of Latin to expand my knowledge of French, and possibly learn Spanish and Italian later on in life. I know that there are many words which are similiar in French and Latin - sanguis, le sang; habitare, habiter etc... There are however, a lot of words in French which do not resemble their Classical Latin equivalent at all. I have looked at a Wikipedia article which seems to state that many French words do not come from Classical Latin, but from Vulgar Latin. How can we gain a knowledge of Vulgar Latin, as it had no written form? I suppose, ultimately, that I am questioning the use of Latin in learning French. Perhaps Latin's influence on Spanish and Italian is more obvious and profound, but I have not seen an overwhelming amount of evidence to suggest that Latin is as useful a tool in aiding French. I am not looking for someone with whom to argue this out, as I have no real facts to back this up; these claims against Latin are just entirely from my own personal experience, and I'd be interested to hear anyone else's opinion on the subject. If, by some lucky chance, someone agrees with my statements, I would be really greatful to know your opinion as to why this French-Latin link seems to hold so much weight, and also, I'd like to find a source of information which would indeed help build French as much as Latin is supposed to.

In writing this, I hope I have not offended anyone, as that was definitely not my intention.

Thank you for your replies and opinions.

Jack
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Re: How much does Latin help French?

Postby ptolemyauletes » Sun Mar 22, 2009 12:32 am

French IS Latin after 2000 years of changes to sounds and spelling and word selections. To use an analogy, think of Shakespearean English. This gives an idea how much a language can change over time (400 years). Go back another 600-700 years in English and you have Anglo-Saxon, a language that is utterly incomprehensible to a modern English speaker. The amazing thing is actually how little French has changed from Latin over 2000 years.

Many of the words you are likely referring to are in fact from Latin descendents, but their forms have been changed, in some cases quite radically, so they may not seem at first glabnce to be connected. The seemingly inconsistent and bizarre system of French spelling gives an indication of how much the language has changed. Its modern spelling does not reflect the changes in pronuncuation that have occurred over the last several centuries. In other cases, French uses more obscure Latin words, which seem likely to have been words used by the common folk rather than Caesar and Cicero. An example is the Latin word caballus, which gives modern Italian, Spanish and French their words for horse, while the classical word equus seems to ahve died out completely, only being revived with more modern creations such as equestrian. French has also adopted words from other, less closely related languages. There must have been many words borrowed from German over the years, as an example, and more recently, a lot of English words have found their way into the language.

As for vulgate Latin, Late classical and Medieval Latin gives a good indication of the evolution of the language, and early versions of French, Italian and Spanish (and other languages) also help to fill in the picture. I am no expert on all of this, but my own observations I hope are of some use.

As for being of use in learning French or Italian or Spanish, here is my experience. I have some little experience with French, having grown up in Canada, where it is cumpulsory to take a few years of French in school. I forgot most of it long before I learned Latin. With almost ten years of Latin behind me now, I am able to read French, Spanish and Italian newspapers at a basic level, having no experience with two of these three languages. Does Latin help you to learn these languages? YES!!!!!!!!!

Hope this is helpful.
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Re: How much does Latin help French?

Postby ptolemyauletes » Sun Mar 22, 2009 12:51 am

An example of a word in French that is not so obviously descended from Latin is ecriver, which is a direct descendant from scribere in Latin. Many Latin words seem to have lost the initial 's' and had it replaced by an 'e'. Also 'b' and 'v' are common letters that are interchangeable across languages.
Other examples are:
ecole = schola
ecouter = ascultare
etoile = stella
epine = spina
ete = aestas
etendre = extendere
etrangler = strangulare
etude = studium
(These should all have accent aigu on at least the initial 'e', but I'm not sure which key makes one)

'eau' is descended from 'aqua'
See what I mean?
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Re: How much does Latin help French?

Postby Jacobus » Sun Mar 22, 2009 8:49 am

Thank you both for your help. I am very grateful. The only reason I was expressing a little doubt on Latin's usefulness for French and possibly other Romance languages, is because of the seemingly numerous words in French which seem to be completely unrelated, at least to me, to their corresponding Classical Latin forms.

bellum - war - The French equivalent of this is "la guerre". I thought this to be completely unrelated until I found the Latin expression "bellum gerere", to wage war. Perhaps the French "la guerre" derives from the verb instead of a noun?

penser - to think. The Latin equivalent of this, as far as I know, is "cognitare". I don't see any relation between these two verbs at all, although I think the Vulgar Latin for "to think" was something like "pensare" or something along those lines. What I'm trying to get across with these two fairly inadequate examples is that I don't think all French words which claim to be from Latin come from Classical Latin - some of them seem to come from Vulgar Latin, unless the root of "penser" is an exception, Is it possible to look at Vulgar Latin? How necessary would this be, really, as Classical Latin seems to give rise to most of the forms.

Thanks
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Re: How much does Latin help French?

Postby Lex » Sun Mar 22, 2009 9:39 am

I've always thought that the reasoning that studying Latin is useful because it helps in the study of Romance languages is specious, at best. The best preparation for French is French; for Spanish, Spanish, etc. It's just another contrived justification for doing something (studying Latin) that needs no justification other than that you enjoy it. There need be no practical reason for doing so, just as there is no practical reason for art or music. It is an end in itself.
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Re: How much does Latin help French?

Postby ptolemyauletes » Sun Mar 22, 2009 10:39 am

I disagree, Lex, although I would agree that a few years of LAtin study would not suffice, and that a certain level of understanding of linguistics and of the patterns of word changes is necessary. I also agree that we do not NEED any other reason to study any subject other than pure enjoyment. As a Latin teacher I can't tell you how fed up I am with the question 'what job will Latin get me/my daughter?'

Now, I am no linguistic expert, but I have begun to note patterns of change between LAtin and Italian, Spanish and French. I tell you though, I have never studied a lick of Spanish in my life, yet I CAN read a Spanish newspaper and get the gist of what is going on. There is no doubt that one would still need to spend much time learning one of these languages as reading at a basic level is not the same as comprehension and production of the spoken language. But Latin, at an advanced level, IS useful, and I quite enjoy spotting words in these modern languages.

Jacobus, don't think of Classical and Vulgar LAtin as different languages. At best they are different dialects. Classical Latin is the written language of the elite in ancient Rome, which was artificially kept alive long after it ceased to actually be spoken. Vulgar Latin is what the common people used. Julius Caesar and his ilk could easily speak both, no differently than Stephen Fry can talk with the Queen and with someone from Birmingham or Manchester (forgive me, I am Canadian and haven't yet mastered an understanding of how everybody speaks here). As in all languages, the variety spoken by the elite inevitably fades away, while the slang spoken by the common people tends (at least some of it) to become the accepted speech of tomorrow. This is why English has changed so much over the course of time. It used to be a highly inflected language, with Nominative, Accusative, Dative and Genitive Cases in all nouns and adjectives, and a sophisticated system of conjugating verbs with Indicative and Subjunctive forms.

To look at your example of penser, this comes from the Latin word pensare, which means literally 'to weigh something'. Metaphorically it means 'to weigh up a situation', therefore 'to consider', hence it is the common modern verb 'to think'. Why is this verb more common than cogitare, or any of the many other verbs meaning to think in Latin? Who knows. It just is. But it DOES come from Latin, as do most French words, either directly descended, or re-integrated into the language during the enlightenment, when English and French and other languages in Europe looked to LAtin and Greek to fulfill a need for sophisticated and scientific vocabulary.
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Re: How much does Latin help French?

Postby Lex » Sun Mar 22, 2009 12:04 pm

ptolemyauletes wrote:As a Latin teacher I can't tell you how fed up I am with the question 'what job will Latin get me/my daughter?'


I can imagine. I bet they never ask the same question to the gym teacher, though, do they?

This is why I don't think that classical languages should be forced on students. There is no really good practical reason why it should be taught, and it's a waste of time to teach it to a student who isn't interested in it for itself.

ptolemyauletes wrote:...But Latin, at an advanced level, IS useful, and I quite enjoy spotting words in these modern languages....


I'm not saying that Latin cannot help with Romance languages to a certain extent. I am saying that wanting to know the Romance languages is not a good reason to study Latin. If you want to know French, Spanish and Italian, then study French, Spanish and Italian; not Latin.
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Re: How much does Latin help French?

Postby MiguelM » Sun Mar 22, 2009 4:42 pm

Even fr guerre derives from a latin alternative guerra,ae to bellum,i which stuck instead of the familiar classical form.

In any case, certainly, if you want to learn Italian or French, then learn Italian or French. To learn the hidden structure of all these languages, and see how they all converge at one point, will make you enjoy the act of learning more, and it will facilitate it. Understanding how sum/es/est/sumus/estis/sunt (to bring about the most blatant of examples) matches up with suis/és/est/sommes/êtes/sont and sono/sei/è/siamo/siete/sono is incredibly rewarding and even anthropologically revealingly-- it will also undoubtedly increase your vocabulary. However, these are side-effects. You won't learn French by studying Latin. Nor Latin by studying French. But your knowledge of one will be deepened as you progress in your knowledge of the other.
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Re: How much does Latin help French?

Postby Jacobus » Sun Mar 22, 2009 4:49 pm

Lex wrote:This is why I don't think that classical languages should be forced on students. There is no really good practical reason why it should be taught, and it's a waste of time to teach it to a student who isn't interested in it for itself.


I agree with you, as I am sure a lot of people studying either Latin or Ancient Greek would do, too. As you have said already, yes, studying Latin is supposed to help our ability to understand the Romance languages; there is however no substitute for actually studying the Romance language in question, as you say. My reasoning for studying Latin perhaps twofold - firstly, as I want to read Latin literature in the orginal. This qualifies as having an interest in Latin for Latin itself, and not for some other purpose. I like Latin because I like what I imagine it sounds like; I imagine it to be far more beautiful than the sound of modern German, for example, which is a language I love for its literature, and certainly not for what it sounds like. Forcing people to study Classics, in my opinion, completely ruins the mindset of the student. Someone who studies Latin because he is forced to, learning vocabulary and grammar like a robot, is far more likely to hate it than if he were to study it on his own, at his own pace, using the method that he prefers. I think it's exactly the same for everything else, too, for what it's worth. For example, I hated history in school. We were instructed blindly learn facts, formulate these facts into preconstructed arguments and effectively regurgitate this prelearnt drivel in an exam situation. That completely ruined history for me. I can no longer read anything about the Great War period, because it represents what amounted to five or so years of robotic learning from which I learnt absolutely nothing of any value. Then, after school, I looked into the Second World War period off my own back, learning what I wanted and considering questions how I wanted to. Being forced to learn something parrot fashion doesn't work for me, as it doesn't for many other people. It completely kills my interest. That is what has happened to people's interest in the Classics. It is not because the subject is boring, on the contrary, it's deeply fascinating; it's just the way Latin, and presumably Ancient Greek, are taught in schools. I realise I'm now going down a road which many before me have explained numerous times, I'm sure, so I'll stop there.

ptolemyauletes wrote:Jacobus, don't think of Classical and Vulgar LAtin as different languages. At best they are different dialects.


Thanks, ptolemyauletes. I suppose my reasoning for thinking they are different languages altogether is that Vulgar Latin was presumably very different from Classical Latin. In any case, thank you for making the distinction clear.

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Re: How much does Latin help French?

Postby metrodorus » Sun Mar 22, 2009 4:55 pm

You might find this text from google books useful - it is a french-english-latin vocabulary, in 3 columns

http://books.google.co.uk/books?id=nUSIhEz5pAcC

This text is even more useful, as it gives the french words that have Latin roots, arranged thematically
http://books.google.co.uk/books?id=xukIAAAAQAAJ
I run various Latin sites, including Schola and the Latinum YouTube channel - the main portal to these is http://latinum.org.uk
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Re: How much does Latin help French?

Postby Jacobus » Sun Mar 22, 2009 5:07 pm

Thanks for the links, metrodorus. These will be very useful when I have a proper chance to have a look at them.

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Re: How much does Latin help French?

Postby Lex » Sun Mar 22, 2009 5:18 pm

Jacobus wrote:...Forcing people to study Classics, in my opinion, completely ruins the mindset of the student....I think it's exactly the same for everything else, too, for what it's worth. For example, I hated history in school...


Well, I think that we would do students a disservice if they were not taught the basics; reading, writing, arithmetic. They need this much to be able to function in society at all. And I can understand arguments in favor of learning some history, politics, literature, even if I have mixed feelings about those arguments. One is that since we live in democracies, the voters should have some vague clue what their votes will do, and without some knowledge of history, economics, politics, etc., they won't. Another is that a canon of literature and history can serve as a sort of civic religion or cultural "glue", without which society won't have enough common cultural reference points to hold together. I just think that all these can be taught in the native language, and that classic or foreign language teaching is not so necessary and need not be forced.

Anyhow, I see that we are veering far from the original topic, and I don't want to be accused of hijacking threads again, so I better leave off for now...
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Re: How much does Latin help French?

Postby Jacobus » Sun Mar 22, 2009 7:49 pm

So, ultimately we think that Latin does help people who are learning French, or who intend to learn French in the future. However, I agree with Lex when he says that learning Latin to help with French should definitely not be the main reason for anyone to learn Latin. We should learn Latin or Ancient Greek because we appreciate them for what they are in themselves. Thank you, everyone, for your opinions. They have been very helpful and informative.

If anyone has anything more to add, I'd be very pleased to hear anything.

Thanks again,

Jack
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Re: How much does Latin help French?

Postby ptolemyauletes » Sun Mar 22, 2009 8:52 pm

No, I do agree with lex ultimately, but I also feel strongly that Latin is a great starting point for these other languages. If nothing else, it teaches you a lot about basic grammar. Also, the fact that it is related to these other languages means it is a flexible place to begin from.

As for forcing students to take it, well, we make all our years seven students take it, then they can choose. There are problems both ways. Forcing Year seven students to take it is no big deal, as it is relatively fun at that level, and they are not stuck with it. On the other hand, I have had several students come to me years later and regret not continuing with it. They were not mature enough at age 11-12 to understand the benefits of Latin, or even just the enjoyment of learning it. I always comfort them with the fact that they can do it later, on their own, as many of you here seem to be doing. I didn't start Latin until I was 26!

As for Latin being interesting, and how it is taught, well, that is another thing entirely. We teachers come in for a lot of criticism, but this is a difficult subject. 'It's boring' is often a translation for 'It's difficult and I don't want to work'. Students these days have a 12 second attention span, and it is hard to make anything exciting. Nor should we be expected to. It can be very defeating for a teacher to have a subject they love reduced to 'it's boring'. School is not a three ring circus. It is a place for CHILDREN to learn skills and culture.

My students can't even listen to a song for 12 seconds before switching to another song! I sound like an old man... I'll stop now :oops:
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Re: How much does Latin help French?

Postby Jacobus » Mon Mar 23, 2009 2:22 pm

It has been made clear to me in this thread that most of the Romance languages' vocabulary has developed from Latin. More recently, however, many English words have found their way into the French language, as is probably true of the other Romance languages - of course, this is true of other languages, as well, although we're only talking about French here. Thank for all you help in putting my doubts to rest about Latin's influence on French. These sorts of discussions remind me how much I have still to learn about language in general.

Multas gratias ob auxillium, responda, et opiniones. Multam gratiam habeo.

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Re: How much does Latin help French?

Postby cb » Mon Mar 30, 2009 2:39 pm

hi, a great book which explains what vocab in french has come from latin, celtic, germanic &c. is "French inside out":

http://books.google.ca/books?id=ai1qH3P ... :out&hl=fr

apart from vocab, another way latin can help a bit with french is with the gender of words which come from latin: see e.g. the section "Hist" near the top of this scanned page of Le Bon Usage s454 (remove spaces):

www . freewebs . com / mhninaeide / grevisse454 . pdf

note in a post above that *écriver isn't a french word (cf écrire).

cheers :)
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Re: How much does Latin help French?

Postby ArthurusNoviEboraci » Mon Mar 30, 2009 7:16 pm

I am someone who just started self-teaching himself Latin two months ago. Though having made great progress, I am not expert as many people on this forum. I feel, however, that being a native speaker of Spanish and a rather fluent speaker of French, I would like to put in my two cents towards Jacobus' essential question.

JACOBUS: if your essential aim is to learn Latin for the sake of reading Latin, while a SUBSIDIARY aim is to gather some idea of one of the Romance languages, I feel that would be a great way to go. HOWEVER, learning Latin for the ultimate goal of learning a Romance language would be an exercise in futility, I feel... Not meaning disrespect to any of the Roman languages - one among which being my beloved native Spanish of El Cid and Cervantes - learning Latin to gain understanding of Italian, French, Spanish would be a bit like buying a Black Label so that you can mix a Whisky Sour (apologies for the mediocrity of the analogy, but it's the first thing that comes to mind). I would recommend any person so inclined to tackle directly the language ultimately desired.

Latin may even mislead you when using the ultimately desired Romance language, due to a simple reason: in those thousands of years that ptolemyauletes points out, many words changed their meaning to a point where they no longer resemble their Latin meaning... I recently studied the deponent verb "populor, populari, populatus sum", which essentially means "destroy"... If you ask a native speaker of French what "peupler" is, or a native speaker of Spanish what "popular" is... they will give you something closer to today's "populate" in English.

OF COURSE, thousands of the Latin words listed above will guide you pretty well, but there will be some "bad guides" too, as the one above...

Only yesterday (you can read the post on this), I made a silly mistake, where I interpreted "DICO TE..." to mean "I tell you...", when that should have taken the DAT "TIBI"... WHY??? Because in my native Spanish, we DO say "Te digo..." ... "Te digo que los Romanos pueden vencerte"... "Te digo que tú puedes vencer a los Romanos".

Magically (well, not so magically, but for arguments sake) all of our pretty languages lost the cases and the declensions (the only Romance exception I happen to know being Romanian, which - even then - doesn't have all the cases), and we all do it with prepositions now, like in English, relying on word order...

Renowned Latinist Father Reginald Foster was quoted as saying that if you learn Latin.... "Italian, Spanish... you can do over the weekend"... I don't think he was trying to get at how Latin is a great help to learn a Romance language, but to the varying levels of grammatical nuance establishing that enormous gap.

As a native speaker, and being able to vouch for how syntactically simple Spanish is compared to Latin, I am inclined to agree with Father Foster... You just have to learn your vocab, put it in a nice neat order, and only worry how to inflect verbs, not nouns... Latin, as I am beginning to see, that's a whole different league... Maybe someone trying to learn German or Russian would be a better reference.
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Re: How much does Latin help French?

Postby MiguelM » Wed Apr 01, 2009 2:47 am

Latin may even mislead you when using the ultimately desired Romance language, due to a simple reason: in those thousands of years that ptolemyauletes points out, many words changed their meaning to a point where they no longer resemble their Latin meaning... I recently studied the deponent verb "populor, populari, populatus sum", which essentially means "destroy"... If you ask a native speaker of French ouwhat "peupler" is, or a native speaker of Spanish what "popular" is... they will give you something closer to today's "populate" in English.


Heh, while it's quite clear that learning a language for the sake of learning another is quite silly, populor's example is still a very rare exception. The vocabulary pool shared throughout the Romance languages (and grammar as well, but let's not get into it much) that you can access through a single one of them is still ridiculously high.
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